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Kat Neville is a freelance Canadian web designer (living in the UK) who is constantly coming up with too many ideas for new websites. She also loves arts and … More about Kat

Business Card Design: Better Than A Plain Ol' Business Card

Quick Summary

Going to web conferences is a great opportunity to make new contacts and exchange business cards. Unfortunately, we have an industry filled with creative people who have no creative marketing for themselves. Sure, many have business cards, but one in a hundred have something really cool. These unique treasures, cards, items etc. get kept, talked about and usually photographed and shared. This post is an inspiration for all you creatives to step up your game, either by getting things made or by making them yourselves. A note of warning though: interesting promotional materials almost always cost more per unit than a white business card or require a lot of prep work, so you’re often going to have a limited quantity. Pick the people you give these treasures to wisely. Those people will feel more important for getting a limited edition, and you don’t run the risk of spending an absolute fortune (in time or money) producing mass quantities!

Table of Contents

Going to web conferences is a great opportunity to make new contacts and exchange business cards. Unfortunately, we have an industry filled with creative people who have no creative marketing for themselves. Sure, many have business cards, but one in a hundred have something really cool. These unique treasures, cards, items etc. get kept, talked about and usually photographed and shared. This post is an inspiration for all you creatives to step up your game, either by getting things made or by making them yourselves.

You may also want to check out the following Smashing Magazine articles:

A note of warning though: interesting promotional materials almost always cost more per unit than a white business card or require a lot of prep work, so you’re often going to have a limited quantity. Pick the people you give these treasures to wisely. Those people will feel more important for getting a limited edition, and you don’t run the risk of spending an absolute fortune (in time or money) producing mass quantities!

Get something special made

There’s multitudes of promotional companies out there to help you create little treasures. You can order them online, but going for the lowest price isn’t always the best bet: quality products in this case is worth a few extra pennies per unit. Make sure you get them produced in your home country as shipping to another company can cost you more than your items!

Brownie points for sew-on badges

Remember girl guides or boy scouts? For some, getting a sew-on badge (especially if it looks cool) will delight the inner camper and badge collector.

Sew on badge from www.edshoots.com

Pin them down

Pin-on badges are relatively inexpensive and if well designed (or with a cheeky graphic) will be attached to a bag or coat. I know I have at least one badge that I’ve received attached to my bag. Sam Brown’s pins, for his app, remindness, combined with business cards in a little goodie bag, are a treat to receive, and a great way to get awareness up for his upcoming launch.

Goodie bags with badges from sam.brown.tc

Badges from www.erskinedesign.com

Badges and custom business cards from butterlabel.com

Keep them stuck on you

Stickers are another relatively inexpensive ‘extra’. It’s especially great if you have a character or logo that has a lot of personality. Koshi, for example, designed the Songbird as a distraction from blogging and coding, but it ended up a popular character that made excellent stickers.

Not sure you want to commit to full customs? Try printing some off your printer onto sticker paper, or moo.com have small square ones that you can get made cheaply and quickly.

Stickers and t-shirts for Songbird by jkoshi.com

More fist stickers.

Mobus stickers; aren’t they cute?

Make a point with pins

Proper pins are much more expensive than plain business cards to make, but they do send a message: you have a certain ‘classic’ quality to your design, you’re not cheap, and attention to detail is important to you. Andy Clarke, from Stuff and Nonsense, who is well known for promoting good practice in css (and author of “Transcending CSS”), is a great example of how you can match your brand image with your pin.

Pins on a business card from stuffandnonsense.co.uk

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Matches, tattoos and ornaments, oh my!

Promotional companies can create almost everything for you. If you’re a smoker, hand out a few packs of matches during the break to your fellow smokers. Is it near a holiday? Perhaps you can incorporate your card into a decoration! If you’re heading to the pub and you’ve created funny or cool temporary tattoos, you’ll be sure to find some enthusiastic friends willing to don your stuff.

Matches, ornaments and stickers from crumplerbags.com

Christmas ornament from creativecommons.org

Get lots of toys made

If you’ve got a cool character, want huge quantities (some places have minimum quantities of a few thousand), have a lot of money to spare (cost per unit may be low, but will easily put a dent in your wallet), have a huge lead time (definitely more than a month or two), and want things made properly in a factory, look into getting toys made. If you’re already an excellent character designer like Gavin Strange, you can get an established toy company to help you through the process. Upon making his first toy, Droplets, his visibility has sky-rocketed, and besides selling them to friends and family on his own website, he’s also in toy shops amongst more established toy makers. Those that purchase a droplet sometimes get little bonuses of stickers and badges. “Visibility has been unreal,” says Gavin.

You don’t need to a toy company to make them for you though. With a little elbow grease, you can organize the production yourself. If you’re going to do it without a company’s support, Figurepunk has this tutorial (click diy in the menu) for a brief overview of how Mashboy was designed and manufactured.

How cute are these Droplets?

All the different colours of Mashboy

One of those cows you can squish the eyes out of from www.simpleusability.com


Image credit: Tamar Weinberg

A cow keychain from utterz.com

Go homemade

Make something cool, but make it out of paper

Making a real gear chain would be expensive, but what about a paper version? Paper is a very versatile medium and papercraft can make exceptionally unique cards. Time intensive, yes, but worth the effort to create something truly unique.

How to make a paper cassette, as made by 4volt.com

Learn how to make your own business card with paper gears here

Etched in their minds

Have any experience with embossing? Do you love playing with different etching techniques? It’s a perfect opportunity to create something unique and memorable.

How to make an embossed card by breakfastofhemind.com

Playing games with them

Let’s face it: we’re an immature bunch, us creatives, and we like nothing more than a bit of fun and games. How about a business card that is also a weapon (not a handgun, but maybe a water gun, or as we have here, a catapult). Or, make your card into an actual game, like a deck of cards, or a role playing game?

The best bet is to find something that people will enjoy playing with. How do you know? Usually it’d be something you enjoy playing with too!

Created by Bryce Bell. Watch it in action here. Learn how to make it here.

Playing cards for cscarts.org

An in-conference game from webstock.org.nz.

Something heart-‘felt’

It’s amazing what you can do with felt. It’s also amazing how personal anything made with it feels, especially as a relatively inexpensive material.

How would you feel if you received a handmade doll? Dolls for Friends have a running list of people that inspire them (whether it be designers, actors, musicians etc) and then send out a custom doll along with their regular marketing materials about their studio. They’ve got lots of good publicity and feedback from sending them and, because each doll can take anywhere from an hour to a few weeks to create, they’re special for everyone who receives them. Erin Lynch, co-founder of Dolls for Friends, is very passionate about creating unique experiences: “Anyone can send out a tri-fold brochure or postcard (and in a lot of cases that’s fine), but why not give some art or design back to the people (or potential clients) out there that you appreciate? It’s all about spreading the love.”

You don’t even have to do something so time intensive or intricate as that though, especially if you have quite a few to create. For example, Tim Van Damme sent cozies, made by Leigh Hicks, along with stickers and buttons, as “a way to thank the people from whom I’ve learned everything I know”, he says. Even though these weren’t intended as promotional material, he ended up getting a good amount of exposure from those people posting his packages on flickr. Genuine goodwill lead to genuine publicity.

A custom doll from dollsforfriends.com

A special felt cozie for www.madebyelephant.com

ARRR! It’s a treasure ye say?

The best part about getting a present is those seconds just before you’ve ripped into the wrapping paper. Giving someone a card where they have to open it up, like a hidden treasure, is a great way to be remembered. Anna Debenham, who made these scrunchup.com envelopes said that people reacted very differently to her cards, and said it was “a bit like watching someone unwrap a Christmas present.” Her card was a photocopied handwritten note explaining the scrunchup’s action plan, folded into a paper aeroplane and then put into an envelope. The cards have been a huge success: she ran out of them before the conference was over, and had random people coming up to her to ask for them.

A paper aeroplane treasure from www.scrunchup.com

A special bag of columbian goods. In this case, I’m guessing it’s for a good Columbian designer!

Make things from scratch using reused goods

Cut from cardboard found on the street and hand stamped, the cards for theboxcat.com, clearly reflect the spirit of its app: it’s about “random things to do and things to think about” (to be released soon!).

Making a business card out of cardboard, old plastic, tinfoil or any ‘found’ material makes for an interesting conversation starter. We all have old rulers, board game pieces and other wooden bits gathering dust in drawers and attics. These things can be cut with a saw into more appropriate sizes, and a stamp doesn’t cost much to get made!

A homemade card from theboxcat.com

A card made from an old ruler

Information printed on an old domino

It’s all sewn up!

Can you sew? Using bits of material to create your entire card, or even just to add one bit onto it, gives your card a tactile quality that normal cards don’t have. It can also show people your crafty or crazy side, especially if you choose to choose a funky fabric, or if your stitching tends to be a bit hap-hazard.

A hand-sewed card by www.naifpanicscares.it

A card that combines a traditional business card with sewing from sackwear.com

Food for thought

At the dConstruct conference last year, ClearLeft had just released silverbackapp.com. During the break, someone dressed up in a gorilla costume and gave out free bananas stamped with their url. Everyone was a bit startled (it was only 10am, after all!), but I’m sure everyone remembers the ape, remembers the bananas and knows it was for Silverback. Talk about strong brand reinforcement for a startup! Originally, their designer, Paul Annett, wanted to create little stickers for the bananas, but it was too expensive. “Like good designers we pro yped the idea [of stamping them instead] and it worked, so we got some custom stamps made,” says Andy Budd, their User Experience Director.

Perishable foods only work on certain occasions, but there’s lots of other food type items you can use, including chocolates, candy or gum, all of which stays preserved and can be packaged quite small. Check out Sweet Impressions for more ideas. You can also just go out to the candy store and make your goody bags yourself!

A stamped banana from silverbackapp.com

A very fancy candy card from leica.com

It’s a natural route to take

Imagine it: you’re trading business cards, and someone gives you a rock. Or a shell.

Do you have a logo with a flower or tree on it? How about a seed planter with instructions on care on it? Something from nature can reinforce a brand that personifies natural things. But stick to inanimate objects: no one wants a piece of rabbit skin or cat hair to put in their wallet!

A handmade rock business card created by Nathan. Learn here how to make it.

Growing card, designed by Jamie Wieck

Growing card for a landscape architect firm designed by Jung von Matt

Electrical delights

We work in technology, so wouldn’t it be great if you could bring technology to your business card? If you dabble in creating your own electronics, creating a dot matrix or flashlight out of your business card will definitely make you ‘shine out’ from the crowd. Tom Ward from www.technologycamp.co.uk, has created these and put up tutorials on how to make them. Cost per unit will probably be quite a lot (about $5 for supplies for the dot matrix or about $1 each for each flashlight, for example), and probably require a bit of skill. They may also inspire you to use your electronic skills to make something truly unique to hand out!

A dot matrix business card. Learn here how to make your own.

A flashlight business card. Learn here how to make your own.

DIY toys can be child’s play

If you can’t afford the costs of getting toys made yourself, or just can’t see yourself needing enough to match the minimum quantities (more than a thousand can be daunting!), you can also make toys yourself. We’ve already seen felt toys, but you can also make toys out of things like fimo or modelling clay. A one off toy like Koshi’s songbird is great, but if you’re going to get any sort of quantity efficiency, you can make one prototype, make a mould, and then pour your own plastic.

That’s what I did for my own mascot, safetygoat. I’ve probably made over 50 of the little guys that I’ve given out, and even though they’re not perfect, they’ve been very popular. One of them is actually on an around the world tour!

Moulds can be made from silicon, and they’re poured with polyeurathane (a type of plastic) and then hand painted. If you’re looking for supplies to make your own toys in the US, try Tap Plastics (who also have instructional videos and a fantastic jingle that get stuck in your head… Tap! Tap Plastics!). In the UK, try TOMPS, who I have phoned up, and have been very helpful.

A one-off special songbird toy created by JKoshi

One of the replicas of safetygoat. Learn here how to make your own.

Useful and/or interactive

Some arts and crafts for them to do later

It’s activity time! Lots of people love arts and crafts, and while they’re sitting later constructing your toy or treasure, they’ll be thinking about you. That’s a good thing. If they’re proud of their construction, they’ll keep it, and people will ask about it. What else can you ask for?

Paint your own train from www.jfisherlogomotives.com

Make your own car from www.intersectionmagazine.com

Useful things (but in context)

Bottle openers are an obvious marketing item, but they can be done well. Look at Message in A Bottle’s bottle opener. There’s a purpose, and it’s done well.

Harrumph wants to be sweeter, movabletype wants to move and adjust things (I’m not sure this wrench actually works, but it’s beautiful!). Mamma wants to help bake you some cookies, and if you get attacked by vampires, breakfast of the mind has a stake ready for you in these homemade wooden cards. Never have a spare bobby pin when you’re looking for one? Yuka Suki’s card uses the pins to reinforce her practice: hair and make-up artist.

Look around you at everyday things and think about the context, metaphors and more that you can relate to your business in a meaningful way. Try and come up with something new and different: I’m sure we all like getting a new pen, but a pen is nothing compared to any of these examples!

A bottle opener from message.inabottle.org

Personalized sugar from www.harrumph.com

A wrench from movabletype.com

A cookie cutter from www.mamma.com

A punch-out stake created by breakfast of the mind

A useful card for hair styles from yukamakeupartist.com

Just because it’s cool

Make things from scratch using reused goods

Cut from cardboard found on the street and hand stamped, the cards for theboxcat.com, clearly reflect the spirit of its app: it’s about “random things to do and things to think about” (to be released soon!).

Making a business card out of cardboard, old plastic, tinfoil or any ‘found’ material makes for an interesting conversation starter. We all have old rulers, board game pieces and other wooden bits gathering dust in drawers and attics. These things can be cut with a saw into more appropriate sizes, and a stamp doesn’t cost much to get made!

A homemade card from theboxcat.com

A card made from an old ruler

Information printed on an old domino

It’s all sewn up!

Can you sew? Using bits of material to create your entire card, or even just to add one bit onto it, gives your card a tactile quality that normal cards don’t have. It can also show people your crafty or crazy side, especially if you choose to choose a funky fabric, or if your stitching tends to be a bit hap-hazard.

A hand-sewed card by www.naifpanicscares.it

A card that combines a traditional business card with sewing from sackwear.com

Food for thought

At the dConstruct conference last year, ClearLeft had just released silverbackapp.com. During the break, someone dressed up in a gorilla costume and gave out free bananas stamped with their url. Everyone was a bit startled (it was only 10am, after all!), but I’m sure everyone remembers the ape, remembers the bananas and knows it was for Silverback. Talk about strong brand reinforcement for a startup! Originally, their designer, Paul Annett, wanted to create little stickers for the bananas, but it was too expensive. “Like good designers we pro yped the idea [of stamping them instead] and it worked, so we got some custom stamps made,” says Andy Budd, their User Experience Director.

Perishable foods only work on certain occasions, but there’s lots of other food type items you can use, including chocolates, candy or gum, all of which stays preserved and can be packaged quite small. Check out Sweet Impressions for more ideas. You can also just go out to the candy store and make your goody bags yourself!

A stamped banana from silverbackapp.com

A very fancy candy card from leica.com

It’s a natural route to take

Imagine it: you’re trading business cards, and someone gives you a rock. Or a shell.

Do you have a logo with a flower or tree on it? How about a seed planter with instructions on care on it? Something from nature can reinforce a brand that personifies natural things. But stick to inanimate objects: no one wants a piece of rabbit skin or cat hair to put in their wallet!

A handmade rock business card created by Nathan. Learn here how to make it.

Growing card, designed by Jamie Wieck

Growing card for a landscape architect firm designed by Jung von Matt

Electrical delights

We work in technology, so wouldn’t it be great if you could bring technology to your business card? If you dabble in creating your own electronics, creating a dot matrix or flashlight out of your business card will definitely make you ‘shine out’ from the crowd. Tom Ward from www.technologycamp.co.uk, has created these and put up tutorials on how to make them. Cost per unit will probably be quite a lot (about $5 for supplies for the dot matrix or about $1 each for each flashlight, for example), and probably require a bit of skill. They may also inspire you to use your electronic skills to make something truly unique to hand out!

A dot matrix business card. Learn here how to make your own.

A flashlight business card. Learn here how to make your own.

DIY toys can be child’s play

If you can’t afford the costs of getting toys made yourself, or just can’t see yourself needing enough to match the minimum quantities (more than a thousand can be daunting!), you can also make toys yourself. We’ve already seen felt toys, but you can also make toys out of things like fimo or modelling clay. A one off toy like Koshi’s songbird is great, but if you’re going to get any sort of quantity efficiency, you can make one prototype, make a mould, and then pour your own plastic.

That’s what I did for my own mascot, safetygoat. I’ve probably made over 50 of the little guys that I’ve given out, and even though they’re not perfect, they’ve been very popular. One of them is actually on an around the world tour!

Moulds can be made from silicon, and they’re poured with polyeurathane (a type of plastic) and then hand painted. If you’re looking for supplies to make your own toys in the US, try Tap Plastics (who also have instructional videos and a fantastic jingle that get stuck in your head… Tap! Tap Plastics!). In the UK, try TOMPS, who I have phoned up, and have been very helpful.

A one-off special songbird toy created by JKoshi

One of the replicas of safetygoat. Learn here how to make your own.

Useful and/or interactive

Some arts and crafts for them to do later

It’s activity time! Lots of people love arts and crafts, and while they’re sitting later constructing your toy or treasure, they’ll be thinking about you. That’s a good thing. If they’re proud of their construction, they’ll keep it, and people will ask about it. What else can you ask for?

Paint your own train from www.jfisherlogomotives.com

Make your own car from www.intersectionmagazine.com

Useful things (but in context)

Bottle openers are an obvious marketing item, but they can be done well. Look at Message in A Bottle’s bottle opener. There’s a purpose, and it’s done well.

Harrumph wants to be sweeter, movabletype wants to move and adjust things (I’m not sure this wrench actually works, but it’s beautiful!). Mamma wants to help bake you some cookies, and if you get attacked by vampires, breakfast of the mind has a stake ready for you in these homemade wooden cards. Never have a spare bobby pin when you’re looking for one? Yuka Suki’s card uses the pins to reinforce her practice: hair and make-up artist.

Look around you at everyday things and think about the context, metaphors and more that you can relate to your business in a meaningful way. Try and come up with something new and different: I’m sure we all like getting a new pen, but a pen is nothing compared to any of these examples!

A bottle opener from message.inabottle.org

Personalized sugar from www.harrumph.com

A wrench from movabletype.com

A cookie cutter from www.mamma.com

A punch-out stake created by breakfast of the mind

A useful card for hair styles from yukamakeupartist.com

Just because it’s cool

Trinkets, coins and fake pills. Delightful, but just decoration. If you can pull it off, brilliant! These examples are all treasures to someone. I know I’d definitely hold on to a coin from Daniel Ballou, wouldn’t you?

Some pills from www.brand-doctors.com

A personalized coin, created by Daniel Ballou, who works for dashdotstudios.com

weird and wonderful business cards

Often you have a few really cool items to hand out to special people, but most likely have limited quantities. What about the rest of the people you meet? You’ll still need a card you can give out to everyone else, and there’s no need for these to be boring. Take Rick Braithwaite’s card, which tells a whole story, or lion in oils, which uses laser cut so it can be read both backwards and forwards. Giving your card a unique finish, a fantastic illustration or an interesting shape, like Depux, will earn you the coveted spot in a person’s wallet.

A crazy story of identity from Rick

A laser cut museum board business card from lioninoil.net

A custom shaped card from depux.com

Business card for incredible typographer, Marian Bantjes

A small warning

The most important thing to remember when deciding what you’re going to use to promote yourself is: does this give people the impression I want people to have? For example, if you’re a designer for very serious pharmaceutical companies and are hoping to make contacts in that field, something really funky isn’t appropriate. But, on the other hand, if you’re a crazy flash developer with an obsession with fish and want to get into more fun projects, you owe it to yourself to create something memorable and creative.

You’re also going to have to carry this stuff around with you, so make things compact.

Let’s make going to meet other web people more fun by bringing cool business cards. We can’t leave all the cool stuff to the big corporations, can we?

Looking for more inspiration?